[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: VMs: 1006184 & 1006185


All good points. And it's getting both fascinating and detailed (which I like - but I'm not an expert or a botanist).

Some comments below - sorry about the length - I'll stop after this.

GC wrote:


I don't know if this helps any, but to my mind there are some background
considerations that weigh heavily on what we might expect of the VMS plant

A few of the most popular early herbals were written by people who were well
travelled, who had actually seen some of the plants they wrote about.  The
problem is that the poeple who made copies of these herbals hadn't seen
hardly any of them, and therefore stylized the drawings, based on written
descriptions of the plant, and nothing more.

This is suggestive evidence that the VMS might have been made by someone who had no access to the plants (see below). But I'd like to know more about the processes of stylization in the drawings. For example, is it known if certain copiers made stylizations in certain ways (leaf shape, flower shape...)??? That might give us a handle on the chain of drawings leading to VMS. It would also be interesting to know if there were regional styles of stylization (e.g. did Italians mis-draw flowers more than leaves, and Germans vice versa?). What effect did (lack of) access to particular pigments have on differences in drawings. With respect ot the strawberry which started this all off (and it's really great to have the SIDs - I brought them home on a couple of CDs with the MrSID viewer) - my thought there is that the leaves look like they might be stylised reductions of cinquefoil (eg Marsh Cinquefoil which has the right colour flowers) or elaborations of a trefoil (like the strawberry). The leaves on the flowerstem are more plausible elaborations of bracts for Cinquefoil perhaps, than strawberry (where the bracts become leaflike as the fruit forms).

Note - we are talking about well before Linnaeus and systematic classification, so the sort of informedness of artistic portrayal of plants we have now cannot be expected - but in a sense that helps us. We can check different artists of the suspected period to see what sort of plant features they considered important and so forth. We might also look into why some herbals are so well drawn - is that just a reflection of access to the plants in real life? (This would imply careful planning across one season, or access to plants over several seasons and thus a protracted production of drawings.)

It would also be interesting to know of any psychological studies of drawing as a process (the artistic equivalent of "Chinese Whispers" as we call it in England - it is not difficult to set up, if any of you have access to classrooms of kids, for example). Draw a plant (or photocopy a good illustration) and pass it to a child to copy, and then that copy to another, and so forth.... Try the same with adults, but that can be difficult to manage in relation to poor knowledge of botany but reasonable drawing self-confidence.

I've read about 300 early printed books on herbs and medicines, most of
which tell where the plant grows and what it is used for.

I've looked at 2 MS not printed books, and I haven't read them. The Vermont images are not like those I found in Wellcome.

It turns out
there was a booming business in herb trade, but few of the people using
these plants had ever seen them.

Using as "end-users" or as traders? And see below on prevalence.

The plants were ground and packaged, and
there are many comments that seeds were roasted before shipment to other
countries in order to preserve the monopoly nature of the trade. Roasted
seeds do not grow.

Indeed, and sometimes roasting also effects their active chemicals.

This left the apothecary trade in the position of using
ground plants from other countries without ever seeing the plant in
question.  Their descriptions of these products usually involve taste and
color, nothing more.

Over what sort of period?

Many books also indicate that the only local source for many of these herbs were the monasteries and abbeys, maintained by the Church. One of the priorities of travelling monks was apparently to bring back new plant specimens, but monopoly trade laws made this a difficult task until the last half of the 16th century.

Hmm - I'm a tinge doubtful. A good number of the plants you might find in any herbal will grow well in almost any part of Europe - if carefully tended. It is very easy to carry both specimens and seeds surreptitiously. But, in addition, the trade will surely have been going on since at least Roman times, and not necessarily secretively. I have in my garden, as do many people throughout England, a persistent weed introduced into England as a culinary herb by the Romans (or so I've read) - certainly it is referred to as 'introduced'. It's called Ground Elder (and a host of other names including 'goutweed' because of its use in treating gout). Some roses, fruit trees of various sorts..... many many plants are not native to England but came here over many centuries before the huge expansion in varieties following Victorian plant collectors' returns to England. Monks were no doubt hugely important, but I doubt they didn't already have well established herb gardens well before the 16th C. But it's more complex even than that introductions have been going on for centuries. Some plants are of course native to wide areas and so never had to be introduced. The wild strawberry is native to all of northern Europe - no need to hide seeds or plants - just go outside and gather as ye may (this also suggests it is not much changed over the centuries).

And there is an interesting problem. Some plants should be much better drawn than others (because if the monks had access problems they would only have access to some plants - and the idea of a monastery/abbey based artist getting them all, even the ones a few minutes away from their desks, quite so oddly wrong seems strange).

Note - I'm not asking for realism of today's standards - I'm asking why so little realism of any standard. And if there is to be a back story about the scribe then let us get those details right also. And, let us know more, from those who know, about variations in style, purpose, reproduceability etc., and then we can put on the wiki pages the reasons why we believe a particular illustration is of a particular plant (or, mutatis mutandis, herbal apparatus or astrological chart or whateve we think it might be...). The concern must be that if the VMS is not a hoax then it is motivated in terms of its content rather than its form. So considerations of style etc., will be very helpful.

As I said - I'm no expert - I have plants in my garden, I grow plants and herbs and eat them, and I have books to help me. If I can find doubtful (for informed reasons) claims that a particular illustration is a particular plant then surely there is room for more detailed justifications.

Sifting through the sid images, there is a lot more damage to the vellum
than previously identified, damage that was repaired by the author prior to
drawing the images and writing the text. This poor quality vellum is
striking in that I've never seen another manuscript that uses so much
damaged vellum as this one does.

That's interesting

This observation goes straight to the
financing of the project, and also goes against any idea that the VMS is a
hoax. A hoaxter should

or merely 'could'??

have made use of the damage to make the manuscript
appear older, but the author went to the trouble of stitching and writing
over the damage.

All things considered, this information points most
probably to a physician or herbalist in a monastery or abbey, not making a
copy, but using loose vellum ends and pieces to accomplish his work.

Would this indicate something about the motivation for the work? For example - 'private' in some sense? I'm thinking here that if it were to have been a monastery project of some sort would the scribe need to scrounge vellum?

I am
working on some evidence that may demonstrate he once travelled to what is
now Germany, but beyond that there is no indication that this individual was
well travelled.

Plant proliferation would do much to negate the need for travel in much of Europe, both natural proliferation and man-made. And where plants were indeed unusual then we'd expect patchily bad representations.

But there you have it - a person in a religious order, devoted to the medicine of the time, poorly travelled and working with few materials. A small abbey garden and a few countryside plants used as substitutes from time to time, but no major knowledge of the appearance of some of the most "powerful" medicinal plants, which came from abroad, already ground in leather covered clay jars. I don't know what you can really expect in plant realism if this is the scenario.

Sounds like a scenario. But I'm not sure - others can berate me.... if we suppose a monk devoted to herbal medicine then I'm not sure how sparse the supply of plants would be (size of abbey garden notwithstanding). I'm not sure how unobtainable plant material would be. What do you mean by 'powerful'? Atropine (belladonna) is powerful, widely known, and probably widely distributed (it grows wild in UK). I'm not sure why I'd have to suppose that was not the case 500 years ago.

Sure - a lot can change in 500 years - just down the hill from where I live there is a tree covered hill which was a thriving fortified hill town 500 years ago. You'd not know just to look at it. But knowledge of plants and access to them - I'd need convincing!

Maybe just count me as deeply doubtful.... but I return to my major concern. If we are to build a wiki site we must be really really careful not to misinform or cast speculation as certainty. If we do we'll prevent others from coming up with alternative ideas.



To unsubscribe, send mail to majordomo@xxxxxxxxxxx with a body saying:
unsubscribe vms-list